Campaigners aim to bring arms fair to its knees with week of protests
Occupy camps, direct action and blockades at Excel
P rotesters plan to lay siege to the Excel exhibition centre, in Docklands, for a week next week in an attempt to disrupt a major arms fair.
The DSEI Conference, the world’s largest, heads to east London every two years, each time drawing a coalition of campaigners, some of whom set up camp as a staging post for direct action.
The police usually stage a major security operation but have refused to comment on details of this year’s operation, as is their standard practice.
Activists from such groups as Campaign Against The Arms Trade are gearing up for days of protest and action from Monday (September 4) to draw attention to an event that likes to keep a low profile.
Keynote speakers include defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox and all of the top brass in the UK military establishment.
The event, running from September 12-15, has 1,600 exhibiting companies, dozens of international pavilions, 250 international delegations and displays covering land, air and sea security.
Naval ships from Ireland and Belgium and the UK will berth in the Royal Docks where there will be displays of interceptions by rigid inflatables and the Royal Marines Offshore Raiding Crafts. Inside the exhibition will have on display fighter jets and Chinook and Apache helicopters as well as countless small arms.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said: “DSEI is one of the biggest arms fairs in the world. It exists purely to maximise arms sales. Theresa May and her colleagues may talk about promoting human rights but DSEI could not happen without the full support of government.”
“A lot of the regimes in attendance have been linked to terrible human rights abuses, and events like DSEI only make them more likely in future.”
Organisers of the arms fair say they showcase “legitimate players on the global stage” and they have a strict policy over who can sell weapons and have expelled exhibitors in the past for breaching rules.
ELAAF is holding a number of symbolic events during DSEI including a a candlelight vigil and a wreath laying in memory of the victims of the arms trade.
“A huge and diverse movement is building to shut the arms fair down before it gets started,” says Stop The Arms Fair, which plans to impede lorries as they bring in equipment as well as maintain vigils and protests during the event.
Other events, under the Stop The Arms Fair banner include a day of worship for faith groups, “direct action against nuclear companies” and a day-long academic conference on the perimeter of Excel.
Another protest group, Occupy The Arms Fair, is planning to return, setting up camp at the east of the centre.
Occupy says: “We will be back for a week-long camp during the week of action, creating a friendly space for people to come and stay.”
Activity will culminate on Saturday, September 9, with the “Big Day of Action, a colour and powerful carnival of resistance” aimed at “causing havoc”.
DSEI organisers point to the broad range of security responses on show, including methods to reduce the risk of London Bridge style terror attacks, medical advances and innovations in cyber warfare.
Event director Duncan Reid said: “The cyber topics provide a direct response to demands of customers from across the military, public sector and industry. The urgent need for cyber security is regularly highlighted as vital to national security.”
Defence procurement minister Harriett Baldwin said: “DSEI is a landmark event presenting to the world the excellence of the UK defence and security business. For us in government is is hugely important, an important showcase, a stage for diplomacy, a platform for international engagement.”
Weapons, tanks and missiles are sold to regimes that oppress their own people ELAAF
A man is led away from protest at the last DSEI in 2015, below